Faith, Hope, Love—Not Apathy
EARLY Christians did not simply think of theirs as just another religion, one they personally happened to prefer. Not at all! They firmly believed that they possessed the truth about Almighty God and his purposes, and that others needed this knowledge for salvation. Their firm faith and hope, coupled with love for their fellowman, moved them to vigorous activity. How filled with fervor and enthusiasm they were! The historian Edward Gibbon, no friend of Christianity, admitted: The “zeal of Christians . . . diffused them through every province in almost every city of the [Roman] empire.”*
But what about today? Do you, too, profess to be a Christian? If so, do you exhibit this same zeal and enthusiasm for the service of God? Or have you come to regard yours as just another religion? Has your service become more a matter of form, a ritual to carry out, rather than an eager sharing of news that means life to others? Do you abound with zeal for the service of God, or have you become apathetic?
ANTIDOTE TO APATHY
Repeatedly the Scriptures emphasize the importance of faith, hope and love as an antidote to apathy. Writing to Hebrew Christians that had apparently slowed down somewhat in their service of God, the Christian apostle Paul encouraged: “Let us approach with true hearts in the full assurance of faith . . . Let us hold fast the public declaration of our hope without wavering . . . And let us consider one another to incite to love and fine works.” Firm faith in God, unwavering hope in his promises of everlasting life, and a genuine love and concern for the interests of others will stir us to life in God’s service.—Heb. 10:22-24.
Do you remember the Bible passage, “Now, however, there remain faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love”? Undoubtedly you do. Notice how the apostle Paul links these qualities with the activity of the first-century Thessalonian Christians: “We bear incessantly in mind your faithful work and your loving labor and your endurance due to your hope in our Lord Jesus Christ before our God and Father.” Did you observe what it was that stimulated them to work, labor and endure in God’s service? Yes, it was faith, hope and love! It is obvious that there was no apathy among those Thessalonians.—1 Cor. 13:13; 1 Thess. 1:3.
These same three qualities were also responsible for the zealous ministerial activity of the Colossian Christians. (Col. 1:4, 5) And it is just as important today that we abound in faith, hope and love. Our very life is at stake! To emphasize this, the apostle Paul likened the activity of a Christian to that of a warrior whose life is constantly endangered on the battlefield. He wrote: “Let us keep our senses and have on the breastplate of faith and love and as a helmet the hope of salvation.” (1 Thess. 5:8) The body’s vital parts are guarded by the breastplate and helmet, which underscores the value of possessing strong faith, hope and love. It is a safeguard to our life.
If you keep busy in God’s service, doing his will with a proper motive, you can be confident that God observes and will reward you. “For God is not unrighteous so as to forget your work and the love you showed for his name.” Therefore, “show the same industriousness so as to have the full assurance of the hope down to the end, in order that you may not become sluggish, but be imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.”—Heb. 6:10-12.
BUILD A STRONG FAITH
Notice that we are encouraged to imitate “those who through faith” inherit God’s promises. Among such men of faith in the first century were the apostles of Jesus Christ; they constantly preached the Kingdom message despite physical hardships. What if you were in their position, and Jesus Christ appeared and invited you to do the same work? Would you tell him that you were too busy? Would you reply that your secular employment left you no time to share in the work he was doing? Would you excuse yourself because of feeling unqualified, preferring to do something easier? Such an attitude would betray a weakness of faith, which, in time of stress, could lead to spiritual shipwreck. Therefore, before it is too late, take steps to strengthen your faith. How?
First, regular study of God’s Word is required. Are you keeping up with the Bible reading program in the Theocratic Ministry School of your congregation? If not, you are missing out on a fine provision to strengthen your faith. Remember, the Scriptural rule is true: “Faith follows the thing heard.” (Rom. 10:17) So read the Bible; listen to its counsel. Make God’s thoughts your own. Do not let your mind wander, but meditate on what you read, considering its application to your own life. Make Bible reading a regular habit.
Prayer, too, is vital for building a strong faith. Your talking with God about problems, feelings and desires will bring you closer to Him. Your relationship with God will become more real, and your faith in his existence and care will be strengthened. Do you pray regularly? When you pray, do you do so earnestly, from the heart, or is it done in a somewhat perfunctory way? For prayer to strengthen faith it must be entered into with sincerity; your heart must go out to God in an earnest expression of thanks or petition. And it must be done frequently. “Pray incessantly,” the Bible encourages.—1 Thess. 5:17.
And thirdly, regular attendance at meetings of the Christian congregation is necessary to build a strong faith. But it is not merely a matter of being present bodily; in order to benefit fully, your mind must be concentrating on the expressions of faith that are spoken and demonstrated. However, faith is built up, not only by listening, but also by entering into the discussion and offering expressions that will stimulate others to works of faith. Those who comment regularly at meetings are generally not apathetic, but are ones whose faith is strong enough to move them to be zealous preachers of the Kingdom good news in obedience to Jesus’ command.—Heb. 10:25.
MAINTAIN A BRIGHT HOPE
Your keeping foremost in mind the hope of everlasting life in God’s righteous new order will also be a strong stimulant to serving God. Do you maintain this bright hope? Where are your mind and thoughts centered? Have you been heeding the principle in the apostolic command to “keep your minds fixed on the things above, and not on the things upon the earth”?—Col. 3:2.
Where your mind and thoughts are focused is usually revealed by your conversation and actions. Is your conversation more often about TV programs, moving pictures and such things rather than about the truths in God’s Word? Are you finding your greatest pleasure in a new car or is your keenest joy in new Bible studies that can aid others to gain life? Do you spend more time playing golf, going swimming and enjoying other recreation than in visiting neighbors with the Word of life? Have you allowed materialistic concerns to eat into your time and thoughts, so that thoughts of God and his new system of things have been pushed into the background?
If such an examination reveals that hope of life in God’s righteous new order does not really have first place in your life, do not delay. Quickly put on as a helmet “the hope of salvation.” How can you do this? In exactly the same way you can build up your faith—by meditating on God’s Word, talking to Him in prayer, and by regularly seeking the association of those who have their minds on “things above.”
Faith and hope are important, but love is even more vital; nothing stimulates one to activity as much as love does. Of course, most persons say that they love God, and many no doubt do have a warm religious feeling toward him. But is this sufficient? Does it prove that one really loves Jehovah God and his Son Jesus Christ? Note what Jesus commented on this matter. “If you love me,” he said, “you will observe my commandments.” (John 14:15) So more than verbal expressions of love or a warm religious feeling are needed to show true love. You must also obey his commands, including the one to his followers: ‘Go, make disciples of people of all nations, teaching them.’—Matt. 28:19, 20; 24:14.
To emphasize that love for him and his Father is shown by activity, Jesus on another occasion asked his apostle Peter three times: ‘Do you love me?’ And after each affirmative answer he told Peter in the hearing of other disciples: “Feed my lambs. . . . Shepherd my little sheep. . . . Feed my little sheep.” Yes, helping sheeplike persons to grow in faith and knowledge of God and his Son is how a true Christian proves his love for Jesus.—John 21:15-17.
What if Jesus said to you personally: ‘Feed my sheep. Shepherd my little lambs.’ Would you tell him that you had other obligations and could not afford to tie yourself down in this way? Would this be showing love? It would be well for each one to examine himself, asking: ‘Am I the one continually being assisted and encouraged spiritually, rather than being the one who helps others? Are my brothers always going out of the way to aid me to get to meetings, or am I the one helping weaker ones to attend? Do I regularly have to be urged to share in the ministry, or do I lovingly assist others?’ How does your love for Christ and his Father measure up?
If your love has cooled off somewhat or has not yet grown to maturity, take steps now to cultivate it. How so? In the same way that you strengthen faith and hope—by regular private study of God’s Word, by earnest prayer and by association with your Christian brothers at congregation meetings. Faced as we are with the destruction of this wicked system of things and with God’s righteous new order at hand, it is urgent for any who have slowed down to snap out of their state of spiritual apathy while there is yet time.
The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Edward Gibbon, Modern Library Edition, Vol. 1, c. 16, p. 451.